This season is no exception, as Terrence Roberts is continuing his effort to prove he is the worst of the worst in Orange basketball history. Roberts started this season with a career percentage of 47.7% (114 for 239), and is moving along at a 45.2% clip this season (currently at 19 of 42 after 9 games). If he keeps up his pace, he will finish his career with the worst free throw shooting percentage for any player with 200 or more attempts. That’s a dubious way to get into the SU record books!
Roberts already has the distinction for the worst free throw shooting percentage in a season with 100+ attempts, which he set last year in his junior campaign. He shot a blistering 56 of 133, for 42.1% accuracy, breaking the season mark previously held by the legendary Stephen Thompson (83-167, 49.7% in 1988-89).
And whose career mark is Roberts challenging (using the 200 attempt standard)? That too would be Mr. Thompson’s, who clearly was the most prolific bad free throw shooter the Orangemen ever had, making 328 of 622 career attempts for a 52.7% accuracy.
Roberts will probably end up with around 160 or so attempts again this season (he’s averaging 4.7 per game), so he has about 120 attempts left. So in order to get his career mark above Thompson’s, Roberts will need to do shoot something like 57 of 78 (73%) down the stretch; not bad for an average player but Herculean by Robert’s standards. I think Roberts may have this one in the bank. Except, there is a challenger out there... more later.
Who are the worst free throw shooters in Syracuse history? There are several candidates.
Roberts would statistically be the worst. There are other candidates.
Stevie Thompson, as mentioned, was not only very bad, but also very prolific. Coach Jim Boeheim used to comment on how much Thompson practiced every day at free throw shooting, and he often was very accurate in practice, but just could not translate it into the game. Thompson as a junior, shot 49.7% from the free throw line, and an amazing 64% from the floor. He was virtually defensively unstoppable when he got the ball near the hoop, which is why he was fouled so often.
Rony Seikaly was another prolific horrible free throw shooter. He hit at 57.6%, which by the standards of many players I’ll comment on here, is actually nosebleed territory. Unfortunately he did it on 412 of 715 free throw attempts. That’s a lot of misses (nine more the Thompson!), for a school career record.
Herman ‘The Helicopter’ Harried would be the worst ever if we lowered the standard to 100 attempts. He shot 45 of 119 for this career, at a 37.8% clip. Harried had no form at all, and just clanged the ball off the hoops.
Other horrible free throw shooters in Syracuse history included Louie McCroskey (51 of 108, 47.2%), Jeremy McNeil (57 for 116, 49.1%), and Josh Pace (88 for 174, 50.6%).
Robert’s teammate Darryl Watkins is also on this list, and he's the contender mentioned earlier. Entering this season Watkins was 66 of 137 for his career, a 48.2% average. He would have been on pace to break Thompson’s record if not for Roberts. Watkins still has a shot at it; he’s 7 of 14 so far this season (50%), raising his career average to 48.3%. A hot streak by Roberts or a cold streak by Watkins could give him the edge (if you want to call it that).
However, numbers don’t always tell the whole story. While it’s true that statistically Roberts, Watkins, and Thompson are the worst ever seen on the Hill, another man truly set the standard: Derek Brower. Brower made 42.1% of his free throws in his career, on 67 of 159. Most players improve over the course of their career through a combination of practice and more playing time. Not Brower. He shot 61% his freshman year, entered his senior season with a career average of 43.9%, and proceeded to shoot 20 of 52 (38.5%) to lower it. Brower frequently shot air balls to the dismay of Syracuse fans; there were times the fans cheered when he merely hit the rim. Brower was a large hustling player whose job on the court was to play defense and rebound; shooting was not his forte.
But the reason that Brower makes the top of this list (or should I say bottom?) is the impact his free throw shooting had on the college basketball game. In the 1987 2nd round NCAA tournament game against Western Kentucky, Syracuse had a lead in the second half. The Hilltoppers decided their best effort to get back in the game was to deliberately foul Brower (when he did not have the ball) and make him shoot free throws. This led to the comical effect of Brower running around the court (without the ball) trying to avoid being fouled by the chasing Western Kentucky players. The strategy was effective as Brower would go 0-6 from the free throw line, though not enough as Syracuse still won by a large margin. However, the following summer, the NCAA would change its rules stating that if a player was deliberately fouled by the other team, he would get two free throws and his team would get the ball back afterwards.